TikTok: Keeping your kids safe in the era of “killer apps”

Growing up, my parents set limits on the amount of television that my brothers and I were allowed to watch, with even stricter limits on the permitted content.

I recall defending the character Al Bundy of Married: With Children against claims that he was inappropriate, and begging to watch The Simpsons. My parents’ reaction to my pleas was a simple: “Ispe Dixit” (a fancy term for unproven statements), as a way to say, ‘Because we said so.” They reasoned that TV “rots your brain” and is a “time waster.”

Sadly, my wife and I recently had that same argument with Ava, our 7-year-old regarding TikTok. As with most 7-year-olds, she craved watching TikTok on our iPad, our phones, or anywhere she could find it.


TikTok challenges can cause injury.       Photo credit: TikTok

What is TikTok?

TikTok, if you haven’t heard of it, is a social media app (like YouTube) that people use to post and share short videos. Users can post videos of themselves or share videos of other users. TikTok has 100 million users in the US alone, most of them young adults.

The most popular videos seem to involve the user singing (or lip syncing), dancing, doing a comedy bit or expressing themselves in an artistic way. Another category of popular videos are TikTok “challenge videos,” which often involve a user challenging others to do something they would not otherwise do. One of the most famous TikTok challenges was the “ice bucket challenge,” where users filmed themselves dumping buckets of ice water over their heads.

tiktok challenge dangerous

Why are people dying from TikTok challenges?

Sadly, the “challenge” videos have degenerated from:


  1. pee your pants challenge
  2. destroy a bathroom

To dangerous

  1. tide pod challenge
  2. milk crate challenge
  3. assault your friends challenge

…To deadly

  1. black out or choke yourself challenge
  2. set yourself on fire challenge

To understand the magnitude of danger that these challenges present to our nation’s youth, simply Google “TikTok deaths.” The results are both sickening and maddening, even more so if you are a parent.

peer pressure

Why are children being hurt the most from TikTok challenges?

Many adults that see these challenges and headlines invariably wonder who would be naive enough to accept these challenges? The answer is: children.

Youths from any background are susceptible to a TikTok challenge.  Most of these children lack the maturity and cognitive function to understand risk. Moreover, even if they were able to perceive some risk, they tend to reason that if a challenge is on TikTok, then it must be relatively safe. Most children crave acceptance, are susceptible to peer pressure, and are lured by promises of easy money, elevated social status and fame.

The next question is usually rhetorical. Shouldn’t the challenges be illegal? The short answer is that lawmakers have tried and failed to address this issue. And TikTok is likely here to stay.

TikTok salt challenge

What should parents do about their children using TikTok?

So, what are parents to do?

  • Be vigilant about what your children are doing online. (I didn’t know my child was watching TikTok until I shadowed her and watched what she was watching.)
  • Decide is whether you are going to allow Tik Tok into your home.
  • If you decide to allow TikTok to be used in your home, there are many online guides to help parents understand Tik Tok, set boundaries and discuss the dangers of TikTok in a way that your kids can understand.

For my wife and I, our decision was easy. We fell back on reasoning that has withstood the test of time…”Ipse Dixit.” We also offered a bargain for an exchange. Ava can watch YouTube in the kitchen while building Legos, all while one of us is cooking (supervising). She doesn’t even seem to miss TikTok.